How to Travel Like a Local in Barcelona
Barcelona is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, due to its amazing architecture and warmer weather. The heartland of Spain suffers from over-tourism, so if you travel there you have to do it right. That means respecting local people and their culture and looking beyond the tourist traps on the surface of the city. If you would rather experience Barcelona like a local, this guide will tell you how to behave, where to go, what to do and what not to do in Barcelona.
What to See in Barcelona
There are plenty of tourist attractions in Barcelona due to its extensive artistic history. The world-famous La Sagrada Familia is always extremely busy, but it is worth buying tickets in advance to enter. Parc Guëll is another very popular attraction, which is definitely worth the experience. However, there are plenty of other Gaudi sites, including the Parc de la Ciutadella. To witness some beautiful local architecture without the queues, visit Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, Basilica dels Sants Martir Just i Pastor, Plaça Sant Felip Neri, Santa Maria de Montserrat, and Santa Anna de Barcelona. It is also worth taking a tour through the Gothic quarter. Alternatively, you can enjoy nature with hikes through the Parc Natural de Collserola and the Carretera de les Aigües trail. For the best views of Barcelona, head to the Bunkers del Carmel for sunrise or sunset. The uphill walk to the abandoned Spanish Civil War bunkers is worth it. You can also get great views from the top of the stairs at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or from the Tibidabo amusement park.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
When travelling to Barcelona, you will want to be close to the attractions but away from the tourist crowds. Eixample, Sants, and Gràcia are good neighbourhoods to stay in. It is important to stay somewhere safe and well-connected. If you want to live like a local, you might be tempted to stay in an Airbnb apartment. However, there is some anti-Airbnb sentiment in Barcelona because it is driving people out and increasing rental costs. It will probably be better for you to choose a traditional hotel or guesthouse, even if it costs a little more. You should only stay in tourist areas around La Rambla, Raval, or Barrio Gòtic if you are travelling on your own. Families and groups might want to avoid these areas.
What to Eat in Barcelona
Mealtimes run later in Barcelona, meaning that lunch is around 2pm and dinner is often not until 8.30pm at the earliest. Many people do not eat the evening meal until 10pm in Barcelona. You will need to adhere to these schedules to fit in, but you can always get tapas as a snack if you get too hungry while waiting. Carrer de Blai is the best place for tapas. If you want to try local dishes for your main meal, try the menu del día (weekday lunch menu). The cuisine in Barcelona tends to be meat-heavy, so the set menu may not be suitable for vegetarians. Be sure to visit bakeries and cafes for pastries and coffee. If you want to eat paella, order it for lunch and not dinner, as this is too heavy for an evening meal.
Where to Shop in Barcelona
La Rambla is the main street in Barcelona where tourists congregate to shop and dine. Since it is often overrun with tourists and caters more to them, the locals avoid La Rambla. Although it is a tourist hotspot there, it is worth visiting La Boqueria market. However, there are plenty of other markets in Barcelona to visit, such as the Mercat de L’Abaceria in Gràcia. The Encant Vells flea market near Placade les Les Glòries is one of the oldest in Europe. For a greater choice of shops, browse the Avinguda Diagonal and the Les Glòries shopping centre. It is better to support local artisans and avoid buying tacky mass-produced souvenirs. Check out Wawas, OMG BCN, Barceloning, Les Topettes, and Murria.
How to Get Around in Barcelona
Barcelona has a fantastic public transport system, with reliable and frequent metro, rail, tram, and bus services. You can buy passes which are valid across all of these, but avoid travel passes specifically for tourists, because they are overpriced. It is better to get a Hola Barcelona card or a T-10 card. The metro stops running at midnight on most days, and runs until 2am on Friday nights and all night on Saturdays. There are also night buses if you miss the last train. In the daytime, Barcelona is a great city for walking, and most of the locals prefer to get around on foot as much as they can. There are also rental bikes available throughout the city. Be wary of pickpockets, especially on public transport.
Things to Avoid in Barcelona
It is important to respect the specific customs in Barcelona if you want to blend in and get along with the locals. This means that there are a few things that you absolutely should not do. For example, do not wear shorts or take your shirt off unless you are on the beach. Avoid talking about politics, as there is a lot of tension regarding the issue of Catalan independence. Be culturally sensitive and do not buy Mexican hats or ask about things like bullfighting (which is not a thing in Barcelona). Greet people in the local language rather than assuming that everyone speaks English. Appreciate the architecture by learning about its history instead of just taking photos and moving on (and do not use selfie sticks!).
How to Speak in Barcelona
The two languages spoken in Barcelona are Spanish and Catalan. It is best to know at least a few phrases in Catalan to interact with the locals. Catalans are very proud of their distinct heritage, so do not assume that Spanish and Catalan are the same or both spoken by everyone. Locals will receive greetings and basic niceties better if you speak to them in Catalan rather than in Castilian Spanish. Here are some simple Catalan phrases which are helpful to know and use:
- hola – hello
- bon dia – good morning
- bona tarda – good afternoon
- adéu – goodbye
- si us plau – please
- gràcies – thanks
- molt bó – very good (food)
Beaches in Barcelona
Since one of the main tourist attractions in Barcelona is the beach, the locals tend to avoid the city beaches. They get far too busy, especially in summer, so it is best to travel out of Barcelona. You can get the train up or down the coast, where there are plenty of quaint beach towns. Just 15-30 minutes of travel can take you out of the crowds of Barcelona to a quiet beach, where you can relax like the locals who live there year-round. Head to places such as Masnou, Ocata, Montgat, Caldes d’Estrac, Castelldefels, Garraf, or Sitges. The people of Barcelona all know to head to spots like these to avoid the overcrowded city beaches, so do the same if you want a more authentic and peaceful beach experience.
Nights Out in Barcelona
Since dinner is often so late in the evening, nights out in Barcelona run even later into the early hours of the morning than you might expect. The nightlife in Barcelona is just as rich as the city’s other cultural attractions if you go to the right places. There are plenty of wine bars, but the Gothic quarter is an especially good spot for bar-hoppers. Gràcia is an excellent neighbourhood for cocktail bars and restaurants, including outdoor terraces on Plaça del Sol. If you go clubbing in Barcelona, be aware that often there will be an entrance fee. This is an average of £10, but the price usually includes a “free” drink, so don’t forget to look out for this. As always, avoid the busy clubs on La Rambla full of tourists.